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Orchard School is an Apple standout (Video)


Orchard STEM School has become one of just 400 schools worldwide and the only PreK-8 in Ohio to be recognized by Apple for innovative use of technology in education.

The list of Apple Distinguished Schools – a circle joined by invitation only -- includes colleges and universities. Apple describes the schools as “centers of leadership and educational excellence.”

Step inside Orchard and tech’s impact is impossible to miss – all 460 students have access to an Apple iPad tablet, provided under the White House's ConnectEd initiative two years ago. Distinguished Schools are required to have that one-to-one ratio. 

Move from classroom to classroom and see students engaged with their iPads, accessing information that stretches way beyond what can be found in a single textbook.  Teachers act as facilitators as students research and answer questions with creativity – for example, by producing video clips to illustrate the definition of a word. The children develop digital portfolios that parents can monitor in real time.

Orchard’s hands-on strategy also encourages trial and error. Principal Kathryn Francis said the combination helps rivet attention and make lessons stick.

“What learning looks like here is not typical, and our kids thrive on that,” she said. “They are getting an opportunity to play with content. Play is fun.”

Orchard’s most recent report card shows room for improvement. But the school’s performance index, a composite of all test scores, increased in each of the last two years. Just under 95 percent of third-graders met Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee – 11 points higher than the District average – and earned promotion to fourth grade.

Students already code. Soon, they may begin developing apps and engaging in “augmented reality,” placing virtual elements, maybe even themselves, into the real world.

Via Skype, students see and communicate with children in other states and countries.

Recently, teacher Kathleen “Kitty” Merk’s sixth-graders talked with students from a girls school in Ontario, Canada, fellow members of a global book club. They discussed stories of refugees from Nazi Germany, Castro’s Cuba and Syria.

At first, the students did not know where either group went to school, including what country – they had to guess. Merk’s students systematically narrowed the possibilities: Are you in North America? Canada? Are you south of Alberta? Do you have an NBA team? Yes? OK, it’s Ontario.

A sixth-grader named Grace and another, Jasmine, said they prefer this style of learning to lecture format. Using technology makes research easier, they said.

“You don’t have to stare at paper,” Jasmine said. “It’s visual.”

Merk joined Orchard about the time the Apple grant was announced, and suddenly, the now 27-year teacher felt like a rookie again. She grew nervous at the thought of such a drastic change; she lost sleep, she could not eat.

The adjustment did not take long. She let a bunch of tech-savvy kids show her how to use the tools and was enlightened.

“The possibilities are endless,” Merk said. “My kids can communicate all over the world. We can take a concept farther than ever before.”